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Monday, August 30, 2010

Groceries 101

In the beginning:

I love the first day of classes; I'm just one of those people. I love new notebooks, purged binders, fresh AA's, organized drawers, digging my backpack out of the closet and, most importantly, the bright white interior of a new fridge.

So, instead of a recipe today's post is going to feature the top 10 Pantry and Fridge items you'll need to start your college kitchen off on the right foot. This list is assuming you either haven't been in your kitchen since last May or you're moving into your first kitchen. If you've already got some of these things on hand consider yourself well on your way to inexpensive, delicious meals in NO time!

Click on the links at the bottom to access recipes that use these ingredients (plus one or two extras):

  1. Milk - I like skim but I usually keep a quart or so of whole milk on hand for sauces or baking
  2. Butter - unsalted is great if you intend on using it for baking
  3. Protein - think chicken, ground turkey, beef (etc) buy what's on sale and freeze all but 1 or 2 portions for this week; just make sure you use it within the first few days if unfrozen
  4. Mustard - I like spicy or whole grain but Dijon is also great; use it in dressing, cold salads (egg or tuna), marinades or just on a sandwich
  5. Eggs - check the Egg Safety Center to find out if your huevos are safe! Otherwise, I like to keep a dozen on hand for baking, a think-fast protein and, of course, breakfast/brunch
  6. Mayo - Use it for dressings, fried chicken, sandwiches or even chocolate cake! Keep it in the fridge and never cross contaminate
  7. Bread - I know in the fridge? Sometimes, the fridge is better if you are living in an especially warm and humid environment (ie w/o AC)
  8. Cheese - whatever you can afford; I suggest something sliced like American, cheddar or Swiss for sandwiches, scrambled eggs, sauces and something to grate like a nice wedge of good Parmesan
  9. Lemon - I like to keep at least 2 on hand, one for just for zesting
  10. Yogurt - I can't live without yogurt and buying plain Greek yogurt means doubles for a savory topping on potatoes or in place of/in conjunction with mayonnaise or drizzled with a little honey with granola or fresh fruit
  1. Olive oil - extra virgin oils are less intense in flavor; great for finishing dishes and salads
  2. Pasta - shells, linguine, penne are great choices
  3. Garlic - keep heads of garlic in a cool, dry place at room temperature; they will keep for weeks
  4. Peanut Butter - don't get me started
  5. Canned tomatoes - I like to keep at least one can each of diced and stewed tomatoes on hand for times when the produce section is falling short of perfection
  6. Baking soda - great for baking as well as cleaning see Tips & Tools:
  7. Flour - all-purpose unbleached flour is the best; with some alterations you can make self-rising and cake flour using all purpose and other agents like baking soda
  8. Sugar - if you don't want to fit the bill for both I would suggest plain, granulated sugar
  9. Canned beans - think black beans and chickpeas for the most versatility; red beans or white for chili and spreads
  10. Vanilla extract - imitation is cheaper but pure is better
Make recipes using this shopping list:
Get cooking!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lime & Black Bean Burrito

Qdoba v Chipotle:

Don't mind me, I just happen to find the "Q v C" debate thrilling. Does it really matter whose guacamole is free? The truth is, I just want the spicy salsa: beef, pork or chicken doesn't make a difference to me so long as I can enjoy perfectly cooked white rice chocked full of cilantro and dripping with fiery chilies.

There is a catch though: the cost. I guess I can't fault them; the average burrito is at least twice the actual size of your stomach. So groaning and panting from digestive exertion we leave burrito establishments everywhere with a full stomach and an empty wallet. But do we have to...

This recipe came to me today when I was virtually rummaging through my cache of recipes. I found one that was especially inspiring: "Taco Slaw" by Mark Bittman. The problem was that the recipe didn't give specific measurements. So when it came to making a "Cilantro Dressing" I was at a total loss. I made a wild guess at ratios and whizzed the cilantro, jalapeno, lime and vegetable oil together; it came out more like a paste than a dressing but I tossed my black beans in anyway and rolled them up with some rice. By this point I was miles from what Mark had in mind. A drizzle of sour cream later and I had accidentally given rise to the "I-just-went-to-the-bookstore-but-really-want-a-Chipotle/Qdoba" burrito. It tastes really great and if I had some perfectly cooked barbacoa or grilled chicken we'd be in the professional burrito business! (Note to self: add "grill pan" to Christmas list). After all the guess work and the dirty dishes I wasn't in the mood to wash and chop lettuce and since we were out of jack cheese (ugh) this is a rather simple version. But for about the same price of an ordinary burrito + guac, side of chips/salsa and a drink you've got enough rice and beans for 2-3 hearty burrito lunches or quick-fix dinners!

Notes: Black beans and rice are especially inexpensive and multipurpose. Cook a little extra rice (inspired by Everyday Food's Sesame Lime Rice) and stir in cooked edamame, 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds and a drizzle soy sauce and you've got another quick lunch. Make your burritos as big or as small as you want and stuff them with whatever you have on hand: shredded cheese, lettuce, taco sauce, sour cream, chopped tomatoes...

Grocery List:
Black Beans
Green chilies

Makes 2-3 burritos (depending on size)

1 cup canned black beans, rinsed
1 cup cooked rice
1 bunch cilantro
juice of 2 limes
zest of 1 of those limes
2 tablespoon veggie oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 green chili (I used jalapeno)
salt / pepper

sour cream

1. Prepare the rice according to package directions (I do 1-2 rice to water). Let cool. Add the zest and juice of one lime and one tablespoon vegetable oil. Season with salt and pepper as desired.
2. Wash and dry the cilantro.
3. Seed the chili pepper and place half (if you like a mild spiciness) in a food processor with the cilantro. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and the juice of the remaining lime. Whiz until the cilantro and chili are chopped.
4. Rinse the black beans and drain. Peel and chop the red onion and add to the black beans. 5. Toss the black bean mixture with the cilantro "dressing", it will look more like a tapenade, and check for seasoning.
6. Now, the hard part: zap your tortilla in the microwave to soften it. Fill the center of the tortilla with a few generous spoonfuls of rice and top with some of the black bean mixture.
7. Dress with sour cream, cheese, tomatoes etc. and fold the top and bottom sides down over the tortilla. Then, tightly roll the tortilla left to right, keeping the top edges folded down. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap to store or enjoy immediately!

Monday, August 23, 2010


"shimmer, shimmer, shimmer"

If you noticed I was a little lax about posting last week, you are exactly right. I told myself I would find the time despite my "vacation" but who was I kidding; I was at an adult ballet camp which meant being physically active five to six hours a day and therefor unreasonably tired at about nine o'clock. To worsen matters the most cooking I did all week was slathering a piece of toast with peanutbutter and brewing a cup of green tea each morning; thanks to a great catering service we received hearty boxed lunches filled with caprese salads and dark chocolate brownies.

But the dream of being a professional dancer is over, at least until next year, so I'm back to hanging on your every comment and salivating over your recipes. But something wonderful happened since my last post: that new laptop I'm always alluding to arrived last week! SPUDS is finally emerging from the oppressive darkness of antiquity thanks to a luxurious Dell Inpsiron 17 (insert applause and fanfare here). But that isn't the only thing that is new this week: most colleges and universities are preparing to start another new school year. So, in honor of that beautiful, shiny new semester, and a ballet instructor from last week, I've decide to post Emeril Lagasse's recipe for snickerdoodles.

Why? One, it let's us showcase cinnamon (no I didn't forget my pledge to expand the spice cabinet) a most versatile and delicious spice. Two, when a teacher last week told us to "shimmer, shimmer, shimmer" at the end of a very long pointe class all I could think about to keep my mind off the blisters, swollen toes and a growling tummy were these cookies with their shimmering, cinnamon-sugar tops. They really are the cutest cookies around with their plump, round shape soft middle and crispy, sweet edges. I mean, who doesn't like a snickerdoodle?

Notes: Cinnamon is great in almost everything. A lot of eastern cuisine showcases it as a savory spice but I like to put it in everything from oatmeal to smoothies to sprinkled on slices of fresh fruit like bananas or even um, a slice of peanutbutter toast. In fact, I typically don't bake anything that doesn't call for cinnamon and vanilla very often, but if I do I usually add it in anyway.

Egg scare
Because I'm easily put off by unsettling news reports I substituted the 2 eggs in this recipe for 1/4 cup sour cream.
No harm done!

Shopping List:
Shortening (Butter flavored or vegetable is fine)

2 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 stick butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs (or 1/4 cup sour cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 (325 if your oven cooks too hot).
2. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Whisk to combine.
3. Beat the butter and shortening over low speed until combined. Add the sugar and continue beating until it is light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).
4. Add the eggs (or sour cream) to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla.
5. Using the mixture on low add the flour mixture in two parts, mixing well after each addition.
6. Roll a tablespoon of dough (or more for larger cookies) between your palms. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and roll the cookie dough in the cinnamon-sugar until coated. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass or bowl. Repeat with remaining cookies.
7. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden and just beginning to crack. They will be soft in the middle and crispy around the edges.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Peach Iced Tea

Anti-boredom elixir:

Another scorcher here means I'm bundled up in a fleece in the back of our shop and I haven't seen a customer since noon. I can't blame them. The chocolates are shivering in their cups just thinking about being toted around out there; undeniably cruel and unusual punishment on a day like this. Any customer within a five mile radius is up the street at the coffee shop getting something cold, blended and covered in whipped cream...

For the rest of the world (ie those of us not returning to college in T-minus two weeks) August and September mark the beginning of the end of island vacations, long weekends, cooking on the grill and late-night date-nights. We're back to the dull daily grind while summer, with its sun and short shorts, beckons to us from office windows, classrooms and the coat closet office of your local chocolate shop. The drudgery of the end of a fantastic season is really wearing on me. The wrap with grilled chicken, lettuce and mango-peach salsa I ate for lunch even seemed to have been affected by the residual boredom of the bland, anemic tag "Wednesday August 11".

So, sitting here listening to the hum and whirl of the central air, I can't help but think that there must be some way to brighten and enliven these arduously slow afternoons. What better way than with a fun, fruity summer beverage that is easy to make, simple to carry and tasty enough to trick your taste buds into thinking, even for half an hour, that it's Friday? I choose to use peaches in this recipe because we have 3 wrinkling on our counter but mangoes (if you you have the patience to peel them) or strawberries would work wonders too. Replace the basil with fresh mint for a nice twist. If you're living in a new apartment chances are your freezer isn't as old school as mine (which doesn't have an ice maker). Ice cube trays come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and are very cheap. Buy up one or two to make these cubs or mini ice pops or, ahem, other adult treats.

Note: Cold brew tea bags are especially easy if you're not in the habit of keeping hot tea around. Buy up during the warmer months because it is almost impossible to find "cold brew" tea during the fall and winter.

3 peaches, very ripe
honey, to taste
1/4 cup water
3-4 black tea bags
3 or 4 basil leaves

1. Heat 6 cups of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the tea bags, remove from the heat and steep according to your taste. Alternatively, use cold-brew tea (available at your local grocer) and prepare as directed.
2. Sweeten the tea to taste while it is still warm.
3. Peel the peaches, discarding the pit. Toss the peaches into a food processor (or blender) with the basil. Pulse until the mixture is pureed. Add a 1/4 cup water and blend again.
4. Add 1/3 of the peach mixture to the tea.
4. Pour or spoon the rest of the fruit mixture into ice cub trays and freeze until ready to serve.
5. To serve: fill a glass or container with the tea, add 3-4 fruit cubes, and go. As the cubes melt, keeping the tea cool, they will infuse the drink with fresh peachy-basil notes. Who says you're not still on vacation?!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blueberry Crepes

French delicious:

I had a dream I was in Paris, riding in a beautiful luxury car down an avenue in the late afternoon. A colonnade of champagne fountains arched streams of bubbly, ebbing down the pavement as we drove up hill amid beautiful gardens. At the top we got out and stood looking down on a twisted, gray medieval Paris in the distance with its snaky, winding Seine just visible in the sunset. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. But, what I remember most were the mango trees, ripe and dripping with fruit, happily growing in the little grove on the hill top. And that was Paris. Needless to say I've never actually been to the city of lights; I think that is for the best

Be warned, these crepes are in no way pointedly traditional. In fact, any Frenchmen worth his chevre would snub these little delicacies immediately. A sweet crepe is often made with wheat flour in France and parts of Europe; ours will be using plain un-bleached all-purpose flour. I've also added a little cinnamon and vanilla extract which makes these decidedly sweet treats. But, the texture and delicacy of flavor evoke everything a good crepe should or could be: quick, versatile, filling.
  • Omit the vanilla and cinnamon and cook the crepes in butter. Fill with scrambled eggs, slices of ham and a melty, creamy cheese or anything else you're craving.
The French often enjoy a good crepe, eaten hot from a street vendor, with just a little powdered sugar or that chocolate-hazelnut spread that is so good I don't dare mention it here. These crepes will be filled with a juicy, gooey blueberry sauce thickened with cornstarch, but I decided to make it optional in case you don't have it or don't care to invest in it (disclaimer: your sauce will be thinner). Try the sauce over waffles, angel food, pound cake, ice cream or cheese cake. I added finely chopped crystallized ginger (about $3 for a small bag) but other nice variations would be:
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon, orange or even lime zest
  • replace the water with fresh orange juice
Notes: Luckily, you don't need any fancy tools to make a basic crepe. A small non-stick frying pan works perfectly. Add a little butter the pan and pour in a few tablespoons of batter. The trick is swirling the pan as soon as the batter hits the surface. Be gentle and accept that the first crepe probably won't turn out. And, if it does, the second one surely won't. Don't be discouraged; put that crepe in it's place (ie. your stomach).

Grocery List:
Cornstarch (optional)


Basic Sweet Crepe (makes 6-8):
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons milk (2% or better)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Whisk the egg, water, vanilla, cinnamon and milk in a big measuring cup (this makes it easier to pour).
2. Sift the flour and salt. Add to the egg mixture, whisking until smooth and combined. Refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight.
3. Heat a small nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Add a small slice of butter. Whisk the crepe batter until combined again (it should have thickened slightly).
4. Pour a few tablespoonfuls into the pan and swirl until the batter coats the bottom of the pan. If it appears too thick add a little water to the remaining batter and whisk.
5. Let the crepe cook for a minute to a minute and a half. Slip the edge of a knife under the crepe and lift it, flipping the uncooked side down and cooking for another 30 seconds to a minute. Try not to let the edges get cracked and papery.
6. When the crepe is cooked, remove it to a plate with waxed paper. Let it cool. Store crepes between sheets of waxed paper in the fridge for up to 2 days or (recommended) use immediately.
Blueberry Sauce (makes about 3/4 cup):
1 cup blueberries, fresh
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup cold water or juice

1/4 cup cold water 1 teaspoon corn starch, optional

1. Place blueberries and sugar (according to taste) in a saucepan. In a small bowl mix together the corn starch and cold water (1/2 cup water total if you're using the corn starch). If you aren't using corn starch just add 1/2 cup cold water or juice to the berries.
2. Turn the berries to medium heat, stirring constantly. When the berries begin to burst and the sauce thickens continue cooking for another 2 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick add another tablespoon of water or juice until you get the desired consistency.
3. Add any flavorings you like (lime or lemon peel, candied ginger etc.). Serve warm or store in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Spice rubbed Chicken

+ garlic green beans:

For the home cook there are few sights more dreadful than a poorly stocked spice cabinet. So, in preparation for the beginning of another amazing school year, let's talk about spices. I think I've mentioned before that living at home has had some perks; take our extensively stocked pantry for example. I don't know how many times at college I scraped together the funds for a staple spice, like say cloves, only to discover a dust covered jar hidden in the darkest recess of our cabinet. Although dried spices are easy to find they aren't always cheap. But don't worry, with a little research (a quick glance around your kitchen) and a few dollars extra each week you won't have to write home to enjoy the rapture of a dependable pantry. Each week during the month of August SPUDS will be featuring a new spice with a recipe that makes good use of your newest kitchen addition: the spice rack.

Because dried spices keep so well they are the perfect tool for a kitchen that doesn't see dinner action every night. Unlike fresh herbs dried varieties take almost no preparation or care. Just be sure to keep the spices in a cool, dry, dark place. The flavor of dried spices is often more concentrated than fresh spices so you will use less, saving money. But where to start? Step one: buy the basic of basics:
  • salt
  • pepper mill
Freshly cracked pepper adds layers of flavor to any dish with almost no amount of work. Pepper mills come in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. Most mills will set you back $15-20 for an inexpensive version. Just make sure you can easily use the "re-load" chamber. If you are looking for a less expensive version, house-hold spice companies offer small disposable grinders at or below $10. Check your local grocery.

Almost any spice can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Even that freshly cracked pepper you just invested in could be used to season lemon and garlic shrimp or eaten on a sinfully good mango sorbet. Today's spice is the basis of the simplest spice rub in town. Cumin, which comes from the cumin seed, is a very popular, multipurpose spice. The flavor is warm, but not spicy, and has a pungent but friendly aroma. It pairs especially well with chicken, which is where we will be using it, but is also a splendid addition to chili, pork or in and a variety of sauces. Try this easy rub on chicken or even pork. What could be simpler?

Note: This recipe is a great time to serve rice or couscous since you will have an open container of broth.

Grocery List:
Fresh green beans

Ingredients (serves 2):
chicken - recipe from Cooking Light:
1 large chicken breast, or two small
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
fresh cilantro, optional

garlic green beans:
1 1/2 cups or 1/2 pound fresh green beans
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable broth or chicken stock
fresh cracked pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 handful (about 2 tablespoons) toasted walnuts

1. Wash and trim the green beans. Cut the beans in half and set aside.
2. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Toast the walnuts until they are fragrant and golden. Then, remove the nuts from the pan and chop roughly. Set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, peel and chop your garlic cloves and set aside. In a small bowl mix the cumin, salt and pepper.
4. Using the same pan you toasted the walnuts in turn the heat to medium. Rinse the chicken and pat dry (this will allow the rub to adhere better to the meat). Remove any skin or fat and cut the large breast in half width wise and then into 2 inch slices.
5. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the frying pan. If the oil starts to smoke lift the pan off the heat for a minute. Dust the chicken with the spice rub, using your fingers to work the spice into the meat. Add the chicken to the preheated pan.
6. Cook the chicken, without disturbing, for 4 minutes and then turn. Let the chicken cook another 4-5 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear. When the chicken is finished remove it from the pan and set aside.
7. Lower the heat to medium. Add the green beans and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the chicken or vegetable broth, scraping the pan. This is called "de-glazing" and will result in all the yummy caramelized bits mixing up with your beans. Cook the beans for another 2 minutes or until the beans are tender but still crisp. Add the garlic and toss with the beans for another minute or two until the garlic is crispy and golden. (If you like your beans softer zap them in the microwave for a few minutes before sending them to the frying pan).
8. To serve: top the green beans with the chopped, toasted walnuts. Serve the chicken warm with some fresh cilantro and rice or couscous.